Student working on Math Problems

About Mell

The MELL project was founded in 2004 in response to a growing performance gap among English language learner (ELL) students in mathematics. MELL develops instructional resources designed to increase the effectiveness of mathematics instruction to ELL students. The MELL team adheres to the fundamental tenant that improved understanding of how to teach mathematics to ELL students results in improved student achievement.

Who We Are

A Collaborative Endeavor

The MELL project believes strongly in the power of collaboration. MELL principals are currently collaborating with state agencies, institutions of higher education, policy research centers and K-12 schools to develop, adapt or integrate MELL resources. The MELL project is one of several K-16 research-to-practice projects facilitated by the Texas State University System Education Policy Implementation Center (EPIC).

A Systemic Effort

The TSUS MELL project involves the participation of all universities in the Texas State University System. MELL coordinates its activities with the Texas Education Agency, regional education service centers, the Southwest Educational Development Lab, other universities and training partners. 

Teams from MELL partner universities conduct research, develop classroom-focused teaching and awareness products, create educator training and engage in a significant number of professional development outreach initiatives.

Participating Universities

MELL teams at four primary institutions are leading R&D efforts for MELL during the 2009 project year. Team members bring a wealth of diverse K-16 experience to the project, from mathematics professors to former K-12 school administrators. Current primary institutions include:

Research Team

The MELL research team is comprised of university professors, researchers and former K-12 educators. The blend of these various backgrounds is what makes the MELL project special and uniquely able to develop classroom teaching tools and professional development products that are directly applicable to the challenges of teaching ELLs.  The current MELL team includes:

John Beck, Texas State University

Dr. John Beck is a professor at Texas State University–San Marcos in the Education and Community Leadership program. He has served as a faculty member, Director of the Office of Teacher Education, Assistant Dean, and Dean of the College of Education. His research interests and publication venues include teacher education, instructional technology and leadership. He currently serves as Director of Operations for the Education Policy Implementation Center (EPIC) and as Higher Education Liaison for the Center for Research, Evaluation and Advancement of Teacher Education (CREATE).

Patsy Curtin, Texas State University

Dr. Pat Curtin is a senior lecturer in the College of Education at Texas State University-San Marcos and experienced educator.

Joyce Fischer, Texas State University

Dr. Joyce Fischer is a Professor of Mathematics at Texas State University – San Marcos. Dr. Fischer teaches and develops curriculum, provides professional development to K-12 mathematics teachers in Texas and Mexico and is a principal investigator for the MELL Initiative. Dr. Fischer is the founder of Texas Empowering Mexican Achievement (TEMA) Matemático and its partner organization Mexico Empowering Texas Achievement (META) Matemático, an international collaborative K-12 teacher program.

Beth Grounds, TSUS MELL Consultant

Beth Grounds is an experienced K-12 educator and professional development facilitator.

Leslie Huling, Texas State University

Dr. Leslie Huling is a professor at Texas State University – San Marcos and director of the TSUS Education Policy Implementation Center (EPIC). Dr. Huling’s areas of specialization include school/university collaboration, teacher education, and teacher induction and mentoring. Dr. Huling has an extensive publications record including more than 50 journal articles and two books.

Bill Jasper, Sam Houston State University

Dr. Bill Jasper is an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at Sam Houston State University. Dr. Jasper’s areas of expertise include professional development for inservice and pre-service mathematics teachers, teaching strategies for special populations, geometry activities, and curriculum development. Dr. Jasper was also awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award for SHSU in 2006, the highest award given to a teacher at his university.

Kyehong Kang, Lamar University

Dr. Kyehong Kang is Assistant Professor at Lamar University. Dr Kang has been active in incorporating technology into higher education instruction in mathematics. Recently he architected and created MathNerds Mentoring Network software connecting educators, teachers, university students, and school district students in an effort to improve future teacher education and help school students struggling with math homework.

Violetta Lien, Texas State University

Dr. Vi Lien is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University-San Marcos.

Ted Mahavier, Lamar University

Dr. Ted Mahavier is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Lamar University. Dr. Mahavier teaches modified Moore method courses in college algebra, trigonometry, calculus, business calculus, discrete mathematics, analysis, topology, and graduate numerical analysis. He has mentored more than a dozen faculty members, each of whom implemented the Moore method for the first time under his direction. His publications span mathematical research, mathematics education, and inquiry-based course notes. Dr. Mahavier is also a co-founder of which has provided discovery-based guidance to more than 200,000 students world-wide and counting. Mahavier is also co-founder and Managing Editor for The Journal of Inquiry-Based Learning in Mathematics, and co-author of The Moore Method: A Pathway to Learner-Centered Instruction, the definitive “how-to” manual for the Moore Method.

Sandra Richardson, Lamar University

Dr. Sandra Richardson is an Assistant Professor at Lamar University in the Department of Professional Pedagogy and the Department of Mathematics. Dr. Richardson teaches mathematics content and methods classes for preservice and inservice teachers. She has extensive experience working with EC – 12 students, university teacher education majors and mathematics majors, and EC-12 inservice teachers.  Her research and scholarly interests include studying minority and underrepresented students’ mathematical thinking at all levels of school mathematics, developing effective tools for mathematics curricula, and mathematics teacher education.

Mary Anne Weinacht, Sul Ross University

Dr. Mary Ann Weinacht is Professor Emeritus at Sul Ross State University. Dr. Weinacht joined the Education Department at Sul Ross in 1985. She served as the Chair of the department and Director of Teacher Education for six years. Since her retirement in 2002 she has worked with two grants, Novice Teacher Induction Program and Mathematics for English Language Learners. Her primary focus has been schools along the border and in the Big Bend area of far west Texas.

Larry White, TSUS MELL Consultant

Larry White has extensive experience teaching secondary mathematics in K-12 settings and teaching mathematics courses to pre-service teachers. He was a Texas Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics in 1986. Mr. White also serves as director of the University Interscholastic League Number Sense Contest and Mathematics Contest. He is a veteran MELL team member and frequently conducts workshops and professional development at national, state, and local forums.

MaryE Wilkinson, Lamar University

Dr. MaryE Wilkinson is an Associate Professor of Mathematics and Professional Pedagogy at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. She teaches traditional mathematics courses in the College of Arts and Sciences and field-based methods courses in the College of Education. Most of her students are preprofessional teachers. As LU-PI for the TSUS MELL Initiative, she currently partners with Education Service Centers in Region 4 and Region 5 to provide summer MELL workshops for secondary mathematics teachers of English Language Learners. Additionally, she is the LU Advisor for the College and Career Readiness Standards.

Why We Exist

American Education at a Turning Point

There are pressing economic and societal needs to increase the mathematics achievement of English language learner (ELL) students. According to prognoses by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, if states do not improve the education of all student groups, the real income of U.S. residents will decline over the next two decades. The MELL project is working with the Texas Education Agency and Texas educators to interrupt these trends and begin closing the achievement gap for ELL students in math.

ELL Academic Challenges

The achievement of ELL students in mathematics often lags that of other student groups and is typically lower in other academic areas as well. In some cases, ELL student performance on the Texas state standardized assessment in mathematics is half that of other student groups in Texas.

PTexas Students Meeting Standards on 2008 Mathematics TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills)This lower scoring pattern for ELL students holds across grade levels. Indeed, mathematics performance scores on the Texas public school statewide standardized test (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or TAKS) given to all public school students are lowest for ELL (aka LEP) students.

However, evidence indicates that such lower scores have little to do with innate mathematics capabilities of ELL students and much to do with linguistic differences in how mathematics concepts may have been presented to these students outside the United States versus within and with the general challenges of learning a new language.

ELL Population Growth Challenges

English language learner students are a rapidly increasing proportion of the overall public school population in Texas: ELL students were estimated at 17 percent of the K-12 student population in Texas schools during the 2007-08 school year.

By definition, “English language learner” includes all English-learning K-12 students who have a primary native language other than English. However, in Texas the vast majority of ELLs are Hispanic students whose native language is Spanish.

The population of ELLs in Texas schools will continue to climb as Hispanics themselves become an increasing percentage of the state’s overall population. Nearly 60 percent of the growth in the state’s population during the last decade was from new Hispanic residents.

Our Conclusion

Population growth among Hispanics as a whole combined with a continued influx of other immigrant groups into Texas will drive significant increase in the numbers of students who are classified as limited English proficient or bilingual/English as a second language (both of these classifications are strong surrogates for ELL) in the coming years.

Increases in these student groups will place a growing burden on Texas public schools to accommodate the linguistic and academic challenges that are simultaneously inherent with this student group. MELL believes that new and more successful teaching approaches will need to be developed and widely replicated in order to successfully meet these challenges.

How We Work

Better Teaching through Research

The TSUS MELL project exists primarily to translate research into practical products designed to improve teaching. Materials and resources developed by MELL are freely available to all schools and universities in Texas. The MELL team seeks to use its unique blend of research and educator professional development skills to create training that improves student achievement.


Integrated Design

The TSUS MELL project is focused on generating collaboration, developing products and facilitating change. MELL project activities span five areas:

  1. Identifying cultural and linguistic causes of low mathematics performance among ELLs
  2. Developing mathematics instructional tools
  3. Creating mathematics professional development
  4. Providing mathematics best practice training to high need campuses
  5. Extending best practices to preservice (teacher training) programs

In each of these areas work is undertaken with the understanding that practical deliverables in the form of teaching tools, instructional frameworks and professional development are paramount outcomes. The MELL project does not operate from a pure quantitative or qualitative research design because the project is centered on producing useful products for education practitioners that can improve instructional efficacy.

Product Focused

The MELL project focuses much of its efforts towards translating research knowledge into practical classroom products. The project is producing several practical tools that teachers can use to bring greater focus and confidence to their teaching of ELL students. These include guides that tie common mathematics knowledge acquisition issues to vocabulary and pedagogical solutions, instruction for better relating state standardized assessment (TAKS) data to ELL student needs, and best practice core concept teaching frameworks.

Change Oriented

The MELL project seeks above all else to facilitate better student achievement through more informed teaching practice. The project is creating educator professional development designed to yield more effective teachers based on an understanding of common vocabulary stumbling blocks and effective mathematics instructional methods.

MELL is also working directly with a number of high need campuses around the state to generate campus wide change in ELL math instructional practice, and the project has formed partnerships with university and field-based preservice programs to weave its work into teacher training program curricula.

See Us In Action

MELL in Action

The MELL team is motivated to improve student achievement by working directly with frontline educators to grow their skills. Above all, MELL team members are motivated by a strong sense of commitment and an enthusiasm for success. View a clip and learn more about the many ways MELL is impacting K-12 education.


Want to see more? Visit the MELL Online Learning page and the MELL Video page.